HC Deb 25 March 1969 vol 780 cc1244-6
12. Mr. Rossi

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what percentage of people served with demands for betterment levy have signified that they were unaware of a liability to pay the levy.

Mr. K. Robinson

I regret this information is not available and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost.

Mr. Rossi

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the levy was presented to the country as a means of hammering the large land speculators, whereas in practice it is the small householders and plot owners who find themselves on the anvil? Will he do something urgently to alleviate the hardship?

Mr. Robinson

I do not agree that the Act was presented in those limited terms. In the debate last Friday, I dealt with the question of publicity. I do not think anyone can complain of lack of publicity at the present time.

Mr. William Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are some on this side of the House who regard the Land Commission as a bureaucratic disaster? Will he now come up with a scheme which protects individual house owners but once and for all prevents the sort of land speculation fostered and encouraged by hon. Members opposite?

Mr. Robinson

I am aware of my hon. Friend's views, although I do not accept that they are representative of this side of the House. I have told the House that I am considering the operation of the Act, and I do not wish to go beyond that at this stage.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Would not most of the problems be solved if the right hon. Gentleman now accepted the Amendments which the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) rejected and which would have exempted owner-occupiers from the levy in precisely the same way as the Inland Revenue exempts owner-occupied houses from Capital Gains Tax?

Mr. Robinson

No, Sir. I think that proposition would probably create more problems than it solved.

14. Mr. Eyre

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government how many widows have been served with demands for betterment levy; and how many have signified that they are unable to pay.

Mr. K. Robinson

I regret this information is not available.

Mr. Eyre

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this section of the population is especially likely to be unfairly treated by the levy system? In particular, will he remember the Adjournment debate case of Mrs. Lowe, of Newcastle, who inherited an estate of less than £5,000, yet had to pay £1,250 levy on a small plot of land? In the circumstances, was this not a case of oppressive taxation? Will he undertake to add this kind of case to the list of abuses which are to be reformed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is not an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Robinson

I remind the hon. Gentleman that levy is payable only where development value is realised by the levy payer. But, of course, the proposition he has put is part of the operation of the Act which, as I have said, is under review.

Mr. Graham Page

When is the right hon. Gentleman going to finish his consideration of these hardship cases and do something about relieving the hardship?

Mr. Robinson

The consideration will be concluded when it is complete.

36. Mr. Dance

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will introduce amending legislation to provide that betterment levy is only charged when the land in question is sold, and not when it changes hands in the form of a gift.

Mr. K. Robinson

Betterment levy is not chargeable on a transfer of land in the form of a gift. Development of the land by the recipent may however attract levy.

Mr. Dance

Will not the right hon. Gentleman change this obnoxious piece of law by adopting what I suggest in this Question? I have an example in my constituency where development has taken place on the gift of a piece of land and the betterment charge is being demanded. This is most unjust. Will he change this?

Mr. Robinson

At the risk of wearying the House, I will only repeat that the operation of this Act is currently under review.

Mr. Graham Page

Once again, this is a very small amendment which would relieve a very great hardship. Cannot the Minister soften his heart a little and make this amendment quickly?

Mr. Robinson

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the matter is not as simple as he represents.